Dorset: Summer Lodge Hotel, Evershot. Phone: 01935 482000
Summer Lodge’s restaurant is a comfortable room with floral, padded-fabric walls and a very bourgeois French feel. Executive chef Steven Titman was lured from the highly acclaimed White Barn Inn in Maine, and Alsace-born Eric Zwiebel was Sommelier of the Year in 2004. He has put together a phenomenal list of almost 1,000 bins with, for example, 32 Champagnes. France is very well represented, but there are interesting bits and pieces from every corner of the globe. My stay at Summer Lodge happened to coincide with a Portuguese food and wine evening that kicked off at 7:00pm with canapés and a glass of wine before a very refined four-course dinner. Salt cod with dressed rocket and lemon aïoli was subtly flavoured, with a tang to the dressing that didn’t overpower the flaky, perfectly cooked fish. Gressingham duck came seared on the outside, nicely pink inside, with an aromatic broth of tomato and coriander. This was a sociable occasion, and taking coffee in the lounge after dinner I discovered that many of my fellow guests were refugee Londoners who enjoy regular country weekends at Summer Lodge. That speaks volumes about the welcome on offer here. Dinner £60, rooms from £185 per night, bed and breakfast.
Hampshire: 36 On the Quay, South St, Emsworth. Phone: 01243 375592
Restaurant 36 On the Quay is located in the picturesque fishing village of Emsworth, between Chichester and Portsmouth, overlooking the bay. There are four well-appointed bedrooms above the restaurant. Owners Ramon and Karen Farthing have steadily built up this establishment since they moved here with their young family in 1996. Fish is a speciality here and Karen has worked hard to create an interesting 250-bin wine list to match Ramon’s stunningly artistic food creations. The à la Carte menu, which changes quarterly, has five starters, five main courses and five desserts, there are daily specials too. I began with pan-fried scallops, accompanied by a hazelnut sablé tartlet with creamed leeks, complemented by an apple and asparagus reduction. My partner chose quail breast and braised leg placed on glazed baby shallots, poached prunes and pickled enoki mushrooms finished with a lightly smoked bacon stock. Both starters were delicious. We were seriously impressed with the main courses, including a roast loin of lamb, grilled liver and sweetbreads, served with a fondant potato, creamed celeriac dice and thyme gravy. I opted for a 36’s speciality rhubarb dessert, which was a platter of four miniature dishes: a sorbet, mousse, hot rhubarb and ginger crumble and a hot soufflé – orgasmic! We opted for a half bottle of Château Carbonnieux 1996 (£32), which went very well with our starters, and followed up with a bottle of 1985 Château La Rose Marbuzet, a 3eme cru classé at £56. Three courses plus coffee and service came to £190 Tuesday to Friday for lunch, Monday to Saturday for dinner. No-Smoking
Hertfordshire: Auberge du Lac, Lemsford. Phone: 01707 368888
This elegantly furnished restaurant, with magnificent floral displays, is in a beautiful setting in the midst of the parkland of Brocket Hall. I revisited this restaurant after Chef-Patron, Jean-Christophe Novelli had departed, leaving Phil Thompson in charge of the kitchen after stints at L’Escargot, the Lanesborough and Orrery. The room layout and décor remains the same, the sommelier Luca Ravagnati, an Italian with eclectic taste in wine is a real enthusiast, he has around 700 wines on his list, including a page of Dom Perignon Champagne going back to 1962. There is a 4 course Menu du Marché at £45, a 7 course Tasting Menu at £65 and an A La Carte Menu with 8 starters, main courses and desserts. After the amuse-bouche of asparagus cappuccino with cheese and herb mousse, I started with char-grilled cumin scented scallops with cauliflower, crab and vegetable spring roll: a little complex with clashing flavours. My partner chose pepper coated seared tuna with avocado and lime mousse, salsa verde and a radish salad. This too was rather complicated, with the pepper overpowering the more delicate flavours.I followed with aromatic steamed fillet of turbot with crème fraiche, caviar linguine and gewürztraminer velouté – a disaster. Stodgy linguine and salty creamed leeks, did not work with the overcooked turbot. My partner’s choice of pan seared spiced tournedos of monkfish with baby gem pureé, boulangerie potato and shellfish beurre noisette was again too complicated with conflicting flavours. The pre-dessert, a weird combination of mango cream, chilli jelly and coconut foam actually worked quite well! The desserts, made by Martin Towse, were excellent. Chocolate orange ravioli with white chocolate, orange ice cream and walnuts was delightful as was the port poached pear with prune samosas and bitter chocolate ice cream. We enjoyed a South African 2004 Tokara White for £38.00, one of the more reasonable wines from Luca’s list. Sadly I think Phil Thompson is trying too hard, with dishes that are too complicated, and the overall dining experience is too expensive. Open Tuesday to Sunday noon till 2.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday 7.00 to 10.00pm.
Hertfordshire: Colette’s at The Grove, Chandlers Cross. Phone 01923 296015
Colette’s restaurant is one of three within the 300 acre parkland of the Grove Estate, near Watford. On the ground floor of the Grade II mansion, the restaurant has two bright, high-ceilinged rooms, with luxurious décor. The A La Carte menu, created by head chef Chris Harrod, is £49 for two courses or £54 for three. I began with Cornish crab, Sevruga caviar, coriander cured tuna and lemon dressing; a very refreshing and tangy starter. Hot smoked salmon with Jerusalem artichoke velouté was a delicate match of flavours and well liked. For our main courses we chose a pan fried Dover sole with fresh linguini, shellfish and herb juice. The fish was beautifully cooked and the flavours were harmoniously balanced. Our second choice was roasted Denham estate venison, celeriac purée and caramelized chicory, chocolate and juniper sauce. This was a very rich but delicate dish, the sauce was light and the texture of the venison was superb. We decided to share a sample of the beautifully presented cheese board and a dessert. French and English cheeses were just ripe and met our expectations. The banana tart tatin, hot chocolate fondant and lemon curd ice cream was a work of art on the plate and flavours melted into the mouth. The wine list, chosen by sommelier Gregory Moreau, is innovative and full of interesting wines from small producers. We tried the 2004 Alto Adige Traminer Aromatico 2004 from Franz Haas at £28. There are a number of wines by the glass, and we tried a Gamay vinifera from the Loire with the venison, at £7.50 a glass this was an excellent accompaniment. Although expensive, this was truly a delightful meal and well worth a visit for a special evening. Three courses plus coffee and service came to £185. Sunday noon till 3.00pm (£35.00), Monday to Saturday 7.00 to 10.30pm
Reading: l’Ortolan, Church Lane, Shinfield RG29BY. Tel 0118 988 8500
The prosecco wines of Bisol are old favourites of wine-pages.com, so when an invitation arrived to check out the Gourmet tasting menu at l’Ortolan matched to Bisol wines, it was graciously accepted. We started the proceedings with a glass of Bisol’s ‘Jeio’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene to accompany a delicious assortment of canapés. The pre-starter, a gazpacho and olive oil purée had pronounced flavours of tomato, pepper and onion. The first course of Avocado mousse and asparagus salad with pâté Negra, parmesan and a lemon oil dressing followed. This was served with Bisol’s 2005 ‘Crede’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. The delicate flavours of the mousse matched the light apple and pear notes of the wine beautifully. The presentation of the next course, the foie gras ‘sandwich’, was extraordinary. The garnish of morello cherry and fig slice together with the concentrated flavour of the sliced duck foie married extremely well with the Bisol 2004 ‘Garnei’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. The John Dory served with white bean cassoulet and pea velouté was a dish of complex textures and rich flavours. This was accompanied by a still wine, Bisol’s 2004 ‘Molera’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. The apricot and floral notes in the wine paired well with the richness of this dish. The main course, roasted chump and braised shoulder of new season’s lamb, with basil pomme purée, roasted tomatoes, tapenade and a mousse of red peppers, ginger and spiced aubergine was a complicated looking dish. The chosen wine, Bisol’s 2004 ‘Cartizze’ Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, appeared to create a challenge. This combination was inspired: I would never have matched a sweet ripe fruity wine with this type of dish, but it worked surprisingly well. Having declined the supplementary British and French cheese course, we completed our meal with a vanilla panna cotta with wild strawberry sorbet and rhubarb consommé. This was a delicious combination that paired beautifully with Bisol’s 2005 Prosecco Duca di Dolle, a passito wine made with traditionally dried grapes. The wine had intense aromas of exotic fruit. The palate was delicately sweet with a racy acidity. This was indeed a charming end to a quite superb meal. Tasting Menu for two, with Bisol Wines, coffees and service came to about £225.00.Tuesday to Saturday for lunch (two courses for £18) and dinner.
The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, Marlborough, Wiltshire SN8 3JP. Tel 01672 870871
How refreshing to dine at a restaurant with not only a great wine list (67 pages), but a great value wine list! Where else could you find Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006 for £28.00 a bottle? Roger Jones is a serious wine enthusiast and excellent chef, while his wife Sue manages the restaurant superbly well. We opted for the Gourmet menu and dawdled over the wine list, eventually choosing a bottle of Jasper Hill, Georgia’s Paddock Riesling, 1998 at £48.00, Pierro Chardonnay, 2002 at £68.00, Picardy Pinot Noir, 2002 at £38.00, Mitolo Serpico ‘Amarone’ Cabernet Sauvignon, 2003 at £58.00 and finished with glasses of different dessert wines. The ‘amuse bouche’ was a delicate and tasty Cherry Gazpacho, followed by our first course, a lobster salad served on a bed of pea shoots. The lobster texture was terrific and blended delightfully with the sweet pea shoots. Carpaccio of Welsh Black Beef with marinated Japanese mushrooms followed. The beef texture and flavour was amazing, and the dressing was delicious, a vinaigrette containing a reduced jus made from Pedro Ximenez Sherry. We then had sashimi of scallops with an absolutely stunning cucumber and wasabi sorbet, follwed by a fillet of wild line caught John Dory with morels. The meat course was a serving of new seasons’ welsh lamb, with fresh beans and peas, super flavours yet again! After a gentle digestive break, we had an excellent selection of cheese, then a range of desserts, a pre dessert of strawberry sorbet, followed by summer pudding sherbet and bitter chocolate with coffee ice cream. What a remarkable meal! Dinner for four, including the ‘Gourmet’ menu (£60.00 per person) and 5 bottles of wine came to £490.00. Lunch Wednesday to Sunday (Set lunch £30.00 incl. 2 glasses of wine). Dinner Wednesday to Saturday
Before the restaurants, a quick plug for one of the best wine shops in Britain; maybe the world. If you are in Manchester, why not drive 30 miles north to the small town of Clitheroe and visit D. Byrne’s wonderful shop for a breathtaking range and very reasonable prices: massive strength in depth with wines from every corner of the world.
Chester Grosvenor Hotel, Eastgate. Phone: 01244 324024
The hotel’s café/restaurant is a truly authentic evocation of a great Parisian Brasserie, but for fine dining book a table at The Arkle, where Simon Radley is behind the stoves and has retained a Michelin star for 15 years. An intimate but business-like space, a large cupola suffuses the room with light. Sommelier Garry Clarke presides over 600 bins, including astonishing collections of Romanée-Conti and Opus One, but also plenty of good value New World wines by the bottle and glass. My meal here was truly superb. I bypassed the gastronomic menu this time (£65) and instead chose to eat à la carte, where £55 buys three substantial course plus an array of amuses, coffee and petit-fours. Cornish red mullet ravioli came with a summer vegetable broth, and a liberal sprinkling of succulent pea shoots and herbs. ‘Chelford Beef’ is one for the seriously hungry. Beef fillet poached with aromatic herbs and topped with a lobe of seared foie gras was outstanding, but just as my plate was cleared, part II of a multi-part dish arrived: baked treacle short rib; a deliciously sticky, forkable chunk of slow-cooked meat. Thankfully, coffee and chocolates was served in the bar, where comfortable club chairs seemed a reasonable option for a night’s kip, the stairs to bed being at least a further 25 yards away. Restaurant closed Sunday and Monday. Rooms from £185 per night, bed and breakfast